John Wheeler is again in Warrnambool and quietly confident in the countdown to another attempt at the local feature double.
The New Plymouth trainer has a huge following at Warrnambool, as he does at Oakbank, having enjoyed so much success at the two major jumps carnivals.
He has completed the Brierly Steeplechase (3450m) – Grand Annual Steeplechase (5500m) double at Warrnambool on three occasions, with Foxboy (1997), The Sundance Kid (1998) and Frankoo Verymuch (2005), and has also won the Grand Annual on two further occasions, with Real Tonic (2006) and Banna Strand (2013).
This year Wheeler has bypassed Oakbank and concentrated on the Warrnambool carnival with his sole representative Macklemore attempting to put the trainer’s name again on the honours’ board six years after Banna Strand’s achievement.
Wheeler singled out Macklemore, a son of Edenwold, as a suitable candidate for the Brierly Steeplechase and be able to back up two days later in the Grand Annual Steeplechase.
‘’I think he’s the right horse for it,’’ Wheeler said. ‘’He came over Wednesday week ago and ran in a jumping trial here last week and went super.
“It was much the same field in the trial as he will race against on Tuesday. They’re all good horses, but I think he’s up to it.’’
Macklemore finished third in the 2800m steeplechase trial behind Bit Of A Lad and Dormello Mo, while Gold Medals and Slowpoke Rodriguez (part-owned by Kevin Myers), another pair of Brierly Steeplechase rivals, also competed in the school.
Gold Medals won the Brierly – Grand Annual double last year and was ridden in the first leg by Shane Jackson, the Irishman who was aboard Macklemore in the trial and will again be the rider on Tuesday.
Jackson made the trip to New Zealand in October 2017 to ride Macklemore when he finished second in his sole steeplechase start behind Justa Charlie at Te Aroha.
“He knows the horse and rides well,’’ Wheeler said. ‘’He was happy with his trial last week.’’
Macklemore won one of his two hurdle starts before being tried as a steeplechaser and as part of his preparation this campaign he was given three flat starts, winning the first two highweights over 1800m and 2050m at New Plymouth and Wanganui respectively. He then signed off for Warrnambool with a fourth over 2500m at Hastings earlier this month.
“He should be sharp enough for the Brierly on Tuesday and that should take the edge off him nicely for the Grand Annual,’’ Wheeler said.
‘’The Grand Annual is a bit like the Great Northern. It’s pretty testing and you don’t want them going keenly. I’m just hoping there is not too much rain.’’
Provided Macklemore acquits himself well on both days, he will most likely stay on in the care of Mornington trainer Brett Scott, whose many highlights as a top jumps jockey included his successful association with Wheeler and the three Brierly – Grand Annual Steeplechase doubles. - NZ Racing Desk